Monday, April 28, 2014

Monday, April 28, 2014

Health care program serving thousands in NOLA on verge of going broke
More than 50,000 uninsured New Orleans area residents could lose access to health care as early as August, when funding expires for a network of neighborhood health clinics created after Hurricane Katrina. The New Orleans Advocate reports that only $9 million is needed to keep the Greater New Orleans Community Health Connection (GNOCHC) waiver running for another year. The waiver has played a crucial role providing access for uninsured adults and providing financial support to community health clinics. The program covers residents who fall below the poverty line but earn too much to enroll in Louisiana’s Medicaid program.

“Proponents say the Community Health Connection program is good not just for patients but also for lowering the cost of health care in the area. Providing preventive health services and programs to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes can keep patients from turning to emergency rooms – which have the highest-cost care – and can prevent illnesses from becoming more serious.  

“504Healthnet, an organization that works with clinics in the New Orleans area, estimates that the nearly 97,000 yearly visits paid for by GNOCHC save roughly $59 million a year in medical costs.”

There is, of course, an obvious solution to this problem: Accepting the billions of federal dollars available to expand Medicaid coverage to adults below 138 percent of poverty. In fact, the original plan behind the GNOHC waiver was for it to serve as a bridge until the federal health care reform law took effect. But the U.S. Supreme Court changed that calculus in June 2012 when it made Medicaid expansion optional for states and Louisiana was among the first states to announce it didn’t want to cover low-income uninsured adults.

Governor requests emergency loan to keep colleges afloat
You know things are bad with the state budget when Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is forced to ask for an emergency $40 million loan from state Treasurer John Kennedy in order to keep the lights on at Louisiana’s public colleges through the end of the fiscal year. As The Advocate reports, the request comes on top of a $172 million deficit in the general fund, which means Kennedy will have to shuffle money around several funds to keep the state’s finances above water.

The latest trouble springs from the way legislators and the governor chose to finance higher education. The current-year budget relies on $340 million in “one-time” dollars – money from legal settlements, property sales and other patchwork financial arrangements – some of which haven’t come in as expected. Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols says the money is expected to arrive before the Aug 14 repayment date. Nobody should be surprised by the latest twist. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office predicted this would happen in a January report that was pooh-poohed by the administration.

Legislators debate Jindal’s proposed budget and other budget-related bills today
Today is the day legislators begin putting their stamp on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget recommendations. The House Appropriations Committee will make changes to House Bill 1, the 2014-15 operating budget that has come under fire for relying on nearly $1 billion in financing that won’t be available next year. Also on the Appropriations docket is a controversial bill (House Bill 148) that would require money from the BP oil spill to be placed in the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund – stopping the money from being used for other budget items. A separate bill coming before the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee (House Bill 490) will prohibit money from being laundered through the coastal fund and the “rainy day fund” to plug budget gaps. That committee is also hearing a legislation by Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, (House Bill 222) that would prohibit offsetting higher education cuts with revenues from tuition and fees. On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Finance committee will hear Senate Bill 355 by Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, which would protect state funding for Medicaid providers, rehabilitation services and the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs from budget cuts in the event of a deficit. The proposal would mean the state’s public colleges and universities would bear even more cuts in the event of revenue shortfalls.

From Rags to Riches to Rags
Most Americans will experience a short-lived period of prosperity during their lifetimes, then quickly return to more modest economic means. That’s the result of a new study by researchers from Cornell University and Washington University, which challenged the notion of a rigid income class structure in the United States. As one researcher writes: …12 percent of the population will find themselves in the top 1 percent of the income distribution for at least one year. What’s more, 39 percent of Americans will spend a year in the top 5 percent of the income distribution, 56 percent will find themselves in the top 10 percent, and a whopping 73 percent will spend a year in the top 20 percent of the income distribution. Yet while many Americans will experience some level of affluence during their lives, a much smaller percentage of them will do so for an extended period of time. Although 12 percent of the population will experience a year in which they find themselves in the top 1 percent of the income distribution, a mere 0.6 percent will do so in 10 consecutive years.”

Number of the Day
72 percent – The employment rate for 25- to 54-year-olds in Louisiana, which is the seventh-lowest in the nation. (Source: The PEW Charitable Trusts)